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Fix the Institution, not the Excluded! How can we design diversity politics at universities in a collaborative and knowledge-based way and work effectively against discrimination?

Dr. Aline Oloff

Dr. Aline Oloff
Image Credit: AO

Research Group Leader: Dr. Aline Oloff, Technische Universität Berlin

In the amendment to the Berlin Higher Education Act (BerlHG) in 2021, the legislature set clear requirements for the reduction of discrimination at Berlin’s universities and strengthened the call to action that already existed with the State Anti-Discrimination Act (LADG, 2020). Now, at the latest, universities are explicitly required to »actively support the participation of all members of the university and to identify and dismantle existing barriers«. Berlins universities are required to develop a concept for anti-discrimination and diversity, to identify the causes of disadvantages and to design and implement measures to dismantle individual as well as structural barriers. Furthermore, the establishment of a counselling and complaints office as well as the appointment of representatives for diversity and anti-discrimination is planned. This is the context of the work of the research group. Starting point of the project is critic of discrimination, which is understood as the normative basis of diversity politics. The aim of the project is to make experiences of discrimination and the knowledge and agency based on this experience to be the starting point for the transformation of the universities into inclusive and democratic places.

In concrete terms, the project contributes to the development of new anti-discrimination structures in two ways: on the one hand, the project brings together various communities and explores the prerequisites and conditions for long-term forms of cooperation in the context of anti-discrimination work in higher education. On the other hand, research will be done for the establishment of sustainable anti-discrimination structures and processes at universities. The focus is here on questions of monitoring (1) and anti-discrimination counselling (2).

 (1)    ›Measuring‹ Diversity and Discrimination?

 Meaningful data is considered a necessary prerequisite for anti-discrimination work, it serves to make representation gaps visible – in the field of equality work, arguing with numbers and proportion is well established – and to understand discrimination mechanisms. However, how exactly and which data can and should be collected for which purpose, is an ongoing debate. Do the representation/the illustration of the diversity deficit must necessarily be based on numbers/figures for groups of people = on categories? How can the question who is missing and why? get answered?

What types of data can be used as basis for this? What are the problems with predetermined categories and/or self-identification data? How can data be collected, what are the best ways (single surveys, integration of item sets in existing instruments, qualitative data etc.)? What can a systematic monitoring that focuses on the institution (and not on the excluded/the minoritized persons) look like?

 (2)    Recording experiences of discrimination, recognizing exclusion, understanding mechanisms of discrimination – the importance and function of anti-discrimination counselling

 Anti-Discrimination counselling is important in two ways: first as support and empowerment of those affected, second as source of knowledge about exclusion and mechanisms of discrimination. The project focuses on the second point, on knowledge and counselling as a valuable source of data on discrimination. The aim is here to register the existing counselling structures at BUA institutions in order to examine the question of securing data from counselling practice. How cases are documented? How is knowledge secured and used so far? What is needed to secure the concrete insights from single cases, to transform them into data and to translate them into the development of effective measures against discrimination? The aim is here to collaboratively develop a systematic documentation of counselling cases. Furthermore, the inventory will be the basis for the development and establishment of an anti-discrimination service in the sense of §5b BerlHG (=Counselling and Complaints Office). What do the existing counselling structures do? Which dimensions of discrimination are addressed, which are not? What does a specialized anti-discrimination counselling service that works sustainably on both levels – empowerment as well as archive – need (staff, equipment, rights)? Finally: how should racism, that has not been explicitly named in the university counselling context so far, be addressed on the level of counselling and complaint?


Dr. Aline Oloff studied Gender Studies and Romance Studies in Berlin and Paris and received her doctorate in 2016 with a thesis on the white women's movement in postcolonial France. In her academic work, she works at the interface of diversity research, science and higher education research as well as research on gender equality and anti-discrimination policies and anti-discrimination work in higher education. 

Contact: aline.oloff@tu-berlin.de